Lunch

Meanwhile, over at my day job

Recipes galore!

(But, full disclosure before we get any further, you’ll have to click through to read more and get the recipes. Think of it kind of like keeping church and state separate.)

Over at my day job, I’m a few months into a new column that has me keeping busy, but very happy.

It involves tackling some of the hundreds of cookbooks that come across my desk by reviewing them, cooking from them and photographing the results. My favourite part is the column name: Cooking the Books. (OK, reality check, my favourite part is getting paid to cook from cookbooks and take photos and eat the results. My life is pretty charmed these days.)

So far, I’ve made some pretty easy stuff and had some adventures with others, like Martha Stewart’s sticky buns, which made so much dough that I had no idea what to do with it all.

But good lord, were these tasty.
Sticky Buns II

Sticky Buns

Read the whole story and get the recipe over here.

Something A LOT easier were these refrigerator pickles from Ted Allen’s cookbook. You know him from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Chopped.

I’ve come to realize that I really love a good pickle. (Especially these ones that I make with my Teriyaki Trout.)
Refrigerator Pickles

Feel like getting in a pickle? You can get the story and recipe by clicking through.

Love her or hate her, I have to admit that I appreciate Rachael Ray’s love for burgers.

From her latest, The Book of Burger, I tried out a Satay Slider, topped with a cucumber-mint relish. It was good enough that I ignored the fact that I hate how she calls sandwiches, “sammies.”
Satay Slider

Check out my story and the recipe.

I completely fell in love with Nigel Slater’s Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard when it landed on my desk. It is just . . . gorgeous. The photographs, the writing, the fonts. Oh man, I love a beautiful font.

Beautiful Ts in this font

And the cover. Dreamy.

Nigel Slater's Ripe

I made his Blackberry Focaccia and it was heavenly.

Blackberry Focaccia

I have a not-so-secret love of southern food. Biscuits and gravy? Yes, please. Chicken and waffles? Order it up. And this, chicken-fried steak.
Chicken-fried Steak

Oh yes.

It didn’t look exactly like the photo in the cookbook, but I did not care.

Find the story and recipe here.

Probably one of the most hilarious ones so far (other than the dough fiasco of the sticky buns) was this one for Champagne-Strawberry Jell-O. Mostly because I was thinking to myself, “How on earth will the bubbles stay bubbly?” And then, I didn’t quite follow the instructions and they got over bubbled. Live and learn.
Strawberry Champagne Jell-O

Want to put some wiggle in your dessert? Head on over to check out the story.

Lastly, for the summer issue of HERS magazine, I blitzed up some Gazpacho. This is like salad in a soup bowl and as soon as it actually gets hot here, I’ll be whipping up another batch.
Gazpacho

As part of the Gazpacho package, you can watch me make it by clicking through. Warning, it will autoplay.

(And, if you really want to, you can check out videos of me making Lemon Bars and, *gasp*, a Souffle.)

I’ve got a few other posts in my back pocket, including some Szechuan Green Beans, Butterscotch Sauce and an easy, one-pan Roast Salmon. I promise to get them up in the next two weeks or so.

Promise.

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad

I love my cookbook collection. And I enjoy lazy weekend afternoons flipping through these books, searching for cooking projects and ideas.

Some I have flagged with Post-it Notes already – markers of past inspiration. Others I remember from past cooking adventures (successful and otherwise). And still more are like bumping into old friends.

It’s an instant reconnection to recipes I have loved, forgotten about and am instantly stumped as to why I don’t make them more often.

This salad falls into that last category.
Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad II

The fact that it’s a salad speaks volumes.

But there’s something about this combination of cooling cabbage and mint with heat from the chili, sour of lime and salty fish sauce – with slices of chicken to make it all a bit more robust – that has me making this each time I rediscover it in Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites.

Bonus: It’s easy to put together.

Double bonus: Cabbage is really, really cheap.

Although Lawson calls for white cabbage, I like to mix purple and green because the colours – against the bright orange carrot, the wisps of dark green mint and flecks of red chili – make it a dish that’s also tasty to the eyes.

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad IV

The onions get soft and lose some of their bite by marinating in the dressing – a trick of Lawson’s that she also uses in her very fine recipe for Greek salad. They mellow as they sit in the lime juice and rice wine vinegar, taking on some of the slight sweetness of the bit of sugar as well.

As they sit, it’s quick to pull the rest of the salad together.

Some quick slicing of the cabbage, grating or julienning the carrot, as well as chopping up the chicken and you just about have enough time to tidy up before the onions are ready.

It’s a great way to use up leftover cooked chicken, though I have been known to cook some just to make this salad.

And, with all due respect to Lawson who says this will serve two to four people, I have been known to eat the entire thing. (Though, arguably, there are worse things to fill up on.)

I look forward to bumping into this recipe again.

Maybe I should flag it, so it won’t take quite as long.

Cabbage

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad Dressing

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad I

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad III

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad

Fish sauce is quite salty, so resist the urge to add any salt before the salad has been tossed well. The dressing doesn’t always look like it will coat all that cabbage and chicken, but it will.

  • 1 chili, preferably a hot Thai one, seeded and minced
  • 1 fat garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely sliced black pepper
  • 7 oz (200 g) cabbage, shredded
  • 1 medium carrot, shredded, julienned or grated
  • 7 oz (200 g) cooked chicken breast, shredded or cut into fine strips
  • 1 bunch mint, about 1 oz/30 g

In a bowl, combine the chili, garlic, sugar, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, oil, onion and black pepper to taste.

Put to one side for half an hour. Then, in a big plate or bowl, mix the cabbage, carrot, chicken and mint. Pour over the onion-soused, chili-flecked dressing and toss very well – slowly and patiently – so that everything is combined and covered thinly. Taste to see if you need salt or pepper.

Serve on a flat plate with maybe a bit more mint chopped on top.

Serves 2 to 4.

Spring Green Risotto

Last Saturday, I had drinks on a patio. Sunglasses were a necessity, as was a tall glass of something cold, and good conversation with friends.

All along 17th Avenue, patios were cracked open for the first warm weekend day in March. Tables were jammed with people laughing, drinking and turning their faces skyward to bask in the warm sun.

It’s as sure a sign of the changing seasons as the fact we had to put our clocks forward that night. (Though one is very much preferable to the other.)

It’s nearly spring.

But we’re not quite there yet.

After all, there are still patches of snow and, it being Calgary, we can be assured of one last blast of winter before spring truly arrives.

As I wait for those first green buds to appear, I find myself drawn to eating something that can at least remind me of spring. This Spring Green Risotto from the Barefoot Contessa is a good fit.

Spring Green Risotto I

The bright green of asparagus and peas, the bright flavour of lemon zest and juice are the tastes and sights of spring. The mascarpone (or, in my case, cream cheese as mascarpone was not to be found) brings a rich creaminess that’s a good last comfort-food hurrah as winter fades away.

Risotto is a bit fussier than other dishes because of the continual stirring, but I think it’s worth the effort. In my experience, you don’t have to be chained to the pot, constantly moving the grains of rice about. You just need to be nearby for frequent stirring.

(I’m sure someone is mentally scolding me right now for that statement, but if the thought of cooking a risotto has put you off because you believe it will be a major arm workout from stirring for 30 minutes non-stop, this is me suggesting you reconsider. No, you can’t walk away; yes, you can do light kitchen tidying at the same time. Or that’s what I did.)

The patience and frequent stirring is worth it. Especially with this recipe.

Spring Green Risotto III

Those little green peas popped with flavour, while the lemon juice made it bright and the cream cheese (see the recipe notes) added a smooth, creamy flavour without too much richness.

It’s enough to tide me over until spring finally does break through. Or at least until the next day warm enough for patio drinks.

Leeks and Arborio Rice

Spring Green Risotto II

Spring Green Risotto IV

Spring Green Risotto V

Spring Green Risotto

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. I omitted the 1 cup (250 mL) of chopped fennel, since I don’t like the flavour. Add it in with the leeks if you’re more of a fan. If you can’t find mascarpone (which I couldn’t – and didn’t want to go searching for in another store), spreadable cream cheese is a decent substitute. It’s less authentic, but was creamy and tangy enough. Using light cream cheese will also cut some of the calories.

  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) unsalted butter
  • 3 cups (750 mL) chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (about 2 leeks)
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) dry white wine
  • 4-5 cups (1 to 1.25 L) simmering chicken stock
  • 1 lb (500 g) asparagus, cut diagonally in 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) lengths
  • 10 oz (300 g) frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) freshly grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 3 tbsp (50 mL) minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender.

Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with the leeks, oil and butter. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring often, until most of the wine is absorbed. Add the chicken stock, a soup ladleful or two at a time, stirring often.

Most of the stock should be absorbed before adding another ladleful. This should take between 25 and 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water for a few minutes, until just tender. Drain and cool in ice water.

When the risotto has been cooking for about 20 minutes, drain the asparagus and add it to the risotto with the peas, lemon zest, 2 teaspoons (10 mL) salt and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of pepper. Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and mascarpone.

When the risotto is done, remove from the heat and stir in the mascarpone mixture, plus the Parmesan and chives. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Sprinkle with chives and more Parmesan to serve.

Serves 4 for dinner, 6 as an appetizer.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For recipe ideas and stories about food, check out the Herald’s food page.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

I had never even heard of a Vietnamese sub before I moved to Calgary.

But my introduction to banh mi came soon after I arrived, when I took that first bite of a sate beef version, topped with pickled carrots and various sauces, all nestled into a crusty baguette.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

It was a Saturday afternoon and I was working a reporting shift at the Herald. We were working on a big story and there wasn’t much time to think about lunch, let alone leave the building to get it.

And that’s when a colleague said he was going on a Vietnamese sub run; did I want one?

Yes, yes, I did, though I had no idea what I was agreeing to.

The first few bites had me thankful for the perks of living in a new city.

Now I have my own favourite place to get subs from and I do so often enough that the girls behind the counter recognize me.

It’s that fabulous combination of spicy and sour, salty and sweet – the traditional flavours of Vietnamese cuisine, and others in Southeast Asia – that make these so appealing to me.

The chili heat of the beef, the sweet-sour of the pickled carrots, the slathering of rich mayonnaise, the crusty, chewy bread. It’s all the right flavours and textures coming together.

In the years since, I’ve eaten my fair share (and perhaps more), but never thought about making them at home until I stumbled upon a Bon Appetit recipe for a pork meatball version. It had all the things I was looking for with the benefit of using meatballs instead of slices of beef sate.

But, of course, I made a few adjustments.

I made my meatballs smaller, then jammed a lot of them in to make the sandwich really filling. Feel free to make them larger, though you’ll need to adjust the cooking time slightly. (Ground pork is cooked through when it reaches an internal temperature of 160F or 75C.)

The original recipe also calls for pan frying them first in some sesame oil before finishing them off in the oven. I was looking for something a little less fussy; cooking them in the oven completely left them slightly less golden, but gave me a chance to tidy up at the same time, which is a good thing in my books.

No Vietnamese sub I’ve seen has daikon on it, so I skipped that in favour of more pickled carrots.

The result: Flavourful meatballs, a spicy mayonnaise and a tangy tangle of carrots, topped with basil leaves, all wedged onto a chewy baguette I picked up from a bakery.

Heavenly. And I didn’t even have to work a Saturday shift to get it.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Adapted from Bon Appetit. Don’t be daunted by the list of ingredients and number of steps. Both the mayonnaise and the meatballs can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge.

Hot Chili Mayo

  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) mayonnaise
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) hot chili sauce (like sriracha)

Stir all ingredients together, cover and chill until assembling sandwiches.

Meatballs

  • 1 lb (500 g) ground pork
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped fresh basil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) hot chili sauce (like sriracha)
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) corn starch
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) coarse kosher salt

Gently mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl. With moistened hands, roll scant tablespoonfuls of the mixture, forming them into 1-inch (2.5-cm) balls. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. (If doing the day before, line the baking sheet with plastic wrap, then cover the meatballs with more plastic and refrigerate.)

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Bake the meatballs until golden and cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Sandwiches

  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) coarse kosher salt
  • 3 cups (750 mL) coarsely grated carrots
  • 4 10-inch (25-cm) baguettes (or 4 10-inch pieces of baguette, cut from 2 baguettes)
  • 16 basil leaves or cilantro sprigs
  • 1 cucumber (or 2 short ones), cut horizontally into 4 wedges thinly sliced jalapeno (optional)

In a bowl, mix together vinegar, sugar and salt. Add grated carrots and toss to combine. Set aside and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

To assemble sandwiches, slice the baguettes horizontally in half, and pull out some of the bread to make room for the filling. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange 1/4 of the cooked meatballs, drained carrots, basil or cilantro, cucumber and jalapeno (if using) inside the bread.

Serves 4.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and meal ideas, check out the Herald’s food page.